Decent Work in the Informal Economy – the Long Road ahead!

By StreetNet International
October 5, 2011
Share this

7 October 2011

Magorwa is a cross-border porter based in Uvira, South Kivu, the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is called a “mbakazI` a porter without capital to buy her own goods. Her job is to carry goods belonging to richer informal traders across the border to Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, which is 30 kilometres away. In the morning, she takes her load over the frontier, risking harassment from the border police and others who sometimes make her pay a bribe. She delivers it to an informal trader in Burundi, who only pays for the goods received. Anything lost on the route is considered her responsibility. When there are many police roadblocks in Burundi, after crossing the border, she divides her load into three or more smaller bundles and she pays other porters to carry them so as to spread the risk. On bad days the police in Burundi confiscate all her goods and she must return home with nothing although she still has to pay the supplier. She is 53 years old and is a single mother with 8 children. She works up to 18 hours per day. Her load can weigh up to 20 kilos.  Most days, she earns around USD 5. She started work as a porter four years ago when her husband left to look for work in South Africa. She has had no news of him since then.

“Organising informal cross border traders and porters so they can have voice and representation is a major priority”, explained Pat Horn, Coordinator of StreetNet International on the occasion of decent work day, October 7th. “We need to understand the sub-contracting chain and the economic inter-dependence between formal economy and informal economy workers. If the police and border guards of the Congo and Burundi enjoyed decent wages, the incentive to make extra income at the expense of the poorest in society would diminish. And it is the women who are the most exploited. The organisation of informal economy workers is a force for promoting democracy and transparency. Decent work for informal economy workers, the great majority of whom are women, is vital for sustainable development,” she added.

Magorwa is a member of the Organisation of Women without Means (OFES), which is an affiliate of ASSOVACO, StreetNet`s affiliate in Kivu. OFES and ASSOVACO are organising women porters in order to negotiate better terms and conditions of work with the informal traders and to denounce harassment and corruption from the authorities.  OFES has also helped to set up micro-credit cooperatives. “This is just one of many beginnings”, said Pat Horn “There is a long road ahead to eradicate exploitative working conditions and organise informal economy workers.”

Decent Work Day will be celebrated by StreetNet affiliates in different ways. Some will join events organised by the union centers in their countries, such as FUTRAND, Venezuela , FEDEVAL, Peru, UGSEIN, Niger and CNTS, Senegal.  Other affiliates are planning artistic activities like NUIEWO, Uganda. Yet others are looking at the implications of decent work in the context of the informal economy, such as CTCP, Nicaragua. “We hope all the affiliates can create awareness within their membership about specific actions governments can take to create an enabling environment for better working conditions for street and market vendors,” Monica Garzaro Scott, one of StreetNet`s organisers explained.

StreetNet is working to establish negotiating forums with municipal governments in alliance with trade unions in order to begin to address the many issues that informal economy workers face, including protection from harassment and eviction, appropriate regulations and enforcement mechanisms, mechanisms to denounce extortion and bribery and social security schemes.


StreetNet International was founded in 2002 and represents 38 vendors` organisations in 32 countries.

For more information, contact:

Type of article